Predicting the Winner in Johnson v. US

The Supreme Court heard one oral argument on Monday in Johnson v. United States, which asks whether mere possession of a short-barreled shotgun should be treated as a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act.  This is a very difficult case to predict.

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As Figure 1 indicates, the total question count is very close: The Court asked the Petitioner 58 questions and the Respondent 57 questions–a virtual tie.

The question count by Justice is also very close.  Four Justices asked the Petitioner (Johnson) more questions, which suggests a leaning to the Solicitor General: Justices Kennedy (+8), Ginsburg (+1), Alito (+13), and Kagan (+4).  Three Justices asked the Solicitor General more questions, which suggests a leaning to the Petitioner (Johnson): Chief Justice Roberts (+9), Justices Scalia (+14), and Breyer (+1).  Justices Sotomayor (cannot tell if she was recused) and Thomas asked no questions.

This is a toss-up.  But I’m going with a win for the Solicitor General, given the slight edge in Justices.

 

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